Which Is Better: A Medical Sonography Degree or Certificate?

May 24, 2019


If you’re looking to be an active part of patient treatment, why not consider the unique and rewarding career of medical sonography? From tracking the progress of a pregnancy to checking for breast cancer, the possibilities are just about limitless.

For prospective medical sonographers (often referred to as ultrasound techs), there are a couple ways to break into this field. You can either study through ultrasound technician certification programs or professional diagnostic medical sonography degree programs. Whichever you choose, both are excellent paths to a lucrative career in the allied health industry.

So what’s the right way for you to become an ultrasound tech?

First Of All, What’s Diagnostic Medical Sonography?

The responsibilities and educational requirements for medical sonographers and ultrasound technicians are essentially the same. These professionals identify patients’ ailments by “playing detective” and searching the body for signs of illness or injury via sonograms and ultrasounds.

Ultrasounds are the vibrations and sounds used to create a medical image. Sonograms are the actual medical image that is created from ultrasounds.

These elements are used for everything from checking a baby’s health during pregnancy to searching for kidney stones. You’ll see them performed everywhere from hospitals to physician’s offices to medical labs.

Are DMS Certificates and Degrees the Same?

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There are various types of sonography programs, and the job duties will be a little different, depending on the one you decide to pursue.

Diagnostic medical sonography differs from other types of sonography (like vascular technology or echocardiography). While these tests harness the same technology, they require different education and experience. It’s possible to specialize in these areas, but workers need to start with the same basic education and testing.

There are different types of diagnostic medical sonographer schooling. You can attend a sonography certificate program that lasts 2 years or longer. Alternatively, you might choose a two- or four-year sonography degree program.

Each of these offers distinct (and abundant) job opportunities and the chance to be a part of the medical treatment team. There are, however, distinct advantages and disadvantages to each.  The steps to becoming a diagnostic medical sonographer start with education and depend on what works best for you.

Attending an Ultrasound Tech Certification Program

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Certificate programs generally take place at a technical or vocational school, rather than a college or university.

An accredited diagnostic medical sonography certificate usually involves 2-3 years of study and typically includes an extensive clinical internship (which can last as long as 8 months). Students who graduate from a CAAHEP-accredited program are eligible to take certification exams offered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS).

Certification testing includes exams on physics, Sonography Principles and Instrumentation (SPI), and specialty testing.

Graduates are able to focus on abdominal, breast, fetal echocardiography, obstetrics/ gynecology (OBGYN), as well as pediatric sonography*. These individual certifications will give you the ability to choose your future career path within the medical sonography world. 

*Specialty eligibility depends on the type of program students have graduated from.

A Fast Track to the Job Market

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this field is set to grow by a staggering 23% from 2016 to 2026 – and there’s no sign of it slowing down. 

Pursuing a certificate is a great choice for current allied healthcare professionals (like medical assistants) who are already working in the medical field. Gaining additional certificates in diagnostic medical sonography can significantly increase job opportunities and salaries.

For those who aren’t in the healthcare field yet, this is an excellent way to start an exciting new career. With a certificate, you can start work and continue your education later on. This makes it much easier to continue moving onward and upward.

Pros of Ultrasound Technologist Certificate Programs

What are the benefits of joining a sonography certificate program?

In a nutshell, these programs are shorter and allow you to start working more quickly than if you studied for a sonography degree. Vocational and technical schools also offer day and evening programs, which are designed especially for working individuals and parents.

Cons of Sonographer Certification Programs

Generally, most employers hire diagnostic medical sonographers based on their knowledge, technical skills, and certification. Having a degree doesn’t necessarily offer a significant advantage over someone who holds a certificate. 

How Is a Sonography Degree Different Than a Certificate?

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Having a bachelor’s degree – rather than just an associate degree or certificate – offers serious advantages in this highly competitive field. 

Spending time at a college or university offers students more time to practice their skills before taking their certification exams, and they may also have the opportunity to study multiple specialties. These classes allow students to qualify for additional certifications and broaden their employment possibilities.

The Cons of a Sonography Degree

Certainly, the most obvious downsides of pursuing a sonography degree are how time-consuming and expensive it can be. A degree takes more time than a certificate, meaning that it takes longer to start working. This logical also means that it’s more costly to complete a degree program.

What Is a Typical Sonographer Salary?

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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2018 median income for diagnostic medical sonographers was $72,510. The best-paying positions were at outpatient care centers, where the average position received a staggering $86,000. The lowest-paid locations were at medical and diagnostic laboratories, which still commanded an impressive $70,000. 

Both types of sonographers have an equal chance of getting hired, however, the biggest difference typically revolves around income. Understandably, a bachelor’s degree requires a more thorough education, and these types of applicants tend to earn higher average salaries. 

Remember: As you gain experience and add specialty areas to your list of certifications, your pay can increase dramatically. Therefore, in order to balance the scales, it’s highly recommended that certificate holders become certified in more than one area

There’s No Better Time to Start a Career in Sonography

No matter how you look at it (or where you look for an ultrasound tech job), the field of medical sonography is overwhelmingly positive. 

With a great job outlook and fantastic pay opportunities, this career might be the right choice for you. If you’re in the New Jersey area, visit our DMS page to discover more about sonography certification programs!